Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lay Judge System: First Not Guilty Verdict

"CHIBA -- A panel of citizen judges acquitted a man of smuggling stimulants into Japan, setting a precedent for the first non-guilty verdict in a lay judge trial.

"Kikuo Anzai, 59, a company executive from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, was acquitted of violating the Stimulants Control Law and the Customs Law at the Chiba District Court on June 22.

"Anzai had been charged with importing stimulants after he was asked by a third person to bring a chocolate can into the country. Prosecutors had demanded Anzai be sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined 6 million yen.

"It marks the nation's first case in which a defendant was acquitted during a lay judge trial. Observers are now focusing their attention on whether prosecutors will appeal the case since none of the past rulings handed down at citizen judge trials has ever been appealed.

"During the trial, whether Anzai had been aware that the chocolate can in his bag contained stimulants became the point of contention. While prosecutors argued that the defendant brought the can into the country after he was commissioned by a person -- who is currently on trial for drug smuggling -- to do so in return for money, his defense counsel claimed that he was unaware of the content of the can as he was entrusted with it as a souvenir for someone else.

"The ruling concluded that the defendant's claim cannot be labeled unreliable, citing the fact that he had complied with a customs request that the can be X-rayed for inspection.

""Based on conventional wisdom, it cannot be recognized that the defendant was unquestionably aware of illegal drugs hidden inside the can," the ruling said.

"Following the decision, the two male citizen judges and three of the four female citizen judges who attended the trial met reporters.

""Although we were presented with the situation that the defendant had faced, there was no solid evidence supporting his guilt," said one of the male citizen judges, a company employee.

"The Chiba District Public Prosecutors Office commented on the ruling following the trial.

""We take the ruling seriously as a result of deliberations among both professional and citizen judges. We believe we did our utmost in making our arguments and presenting the evidence, but we'd like to scrutinize the content of the ruling to see if there were any shortcomings on our part before examining whether to appeal the case," said a representative of the prosecutors office."

By Mainichi Shimbun (6/22/2010), Link to article (last visited 6/23/2010)

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